Bell Couloir - a near miss

Banff Yoho & Kootenay National Park

Ian Oliphant , Saturday 20th March, 2021 4:50PM

Conditions are ever changing! My ski buddy and I were surprised to see such an optimistic bulletin this morning due to the new snow and moderate overnight winds. We turned back from the Bell Couloir after what we anticipated was confirmed. The new snow is not bonding well to the latest crust, and starting to form its own slab interface on top. We were surprised to see the continued confidence of others after two slabs were cut off within the couloir and parties continued to boot up! It was enough evidence for us to turn away, but I’m envious of your confidence! Bear in mind that the bulletin is a regional overview of conditions, Not a local description of the slope you’re looking at. I would encourage any new backcountry skiers to continue to educate themselves and assess the snowpack under their feet, even on days when the bulletin says your line is a go! P.S. the ski out from Taylor is pretty rowdy right now. Sharpen those edges!

Snow conditions were: Crusty, Hard, Powder, Wind affected. Weather conditions were: Cloudy, Foggy. We rode: Alpine slopes, Dense trees, Mellow slopes, Open trees, Steep slopes, Sunny slopes. We avoided: Convex slopes. Riding quality was ok.

Avalache Conditions: Slab avalanches today or yesterday. Whumpfing or drum-like sounds or shooting cracks.


Inside Bell Couloir we found two major concerns: Newly Formed Windslab: A report yesterday from Bell spoke of good skiing, and a great time. Things are ever changing! Moderate overnight and morning winds deposited the new snow onto the Lee Slope of Bell Couloir which resulted in a neat upper (5-10cm) interface with very slab-like properties. We observed two size 1-1.5 avalanches in the couloir with this layer. Sleeping Dragon: Beneath the new snow is a very interesting Windslab perched ontop of a small layer of depth hoard. This hoar layer is under about 30-40cm of windslab! This slab sheared with easy-moderate force in a hand shear test. If you’re headed to Bell, exercise Caution not to wake this layer!


Snowing at a higher than forecasted rate made for a winter wonderland up at Taylor Lake!


As a party of two dropped in over the convexity they cut out a size 1.5 out of the newly formed Windslab. Another party of 4 followed with no apparent reluctancy. The first skier triggered a large portion of remaining hangfire resulting in another slide of equal size.